One of the top reasons people tell me they don’t enjoy business networking events is that they don’t feel confident.
I know people who have driven to a networking breakfast and then turned round in the car park because they were just so nervous.
I get that, that is exactly how I felt before my very first networking event. In fact I still feel nervous if I’m going to a new event for the first time and am not sure of the format, or don’t know any of the people at the event.
So, here are my five tips to help you feel more confident. PLEASE comment if you have tips of your own:
- Find out about the event – Is there a website where you can check details? If not, ‘phone one of the organisers in advance. What you want to know is: what format does the meeting take? Will you be given the opportunity to introduce your business to the others? If so, how long do you have (usually 40 or 60 seconds)? Is there a dress code? If there is something that is particularly worrying you about the event, ask that.
- Prepare – If you’ve got a 40 or 60 seconds to do, prepare it and rehearse it in advance. If you’ve got something prepared, with notes if necessary to remind you, you will feel prepared and more confident. Rehearse your introduction to yourself, the mirror, your partner, your family, your goldfish. But rehearse it. TRICK 2b – also rehearse what you are going to say when someone asks “what do you do”. Find a few words you’re comfortable with to answer that. Also prepare by making sure you have everything you need, business cards, any flyers or brochures you want to give out and, crucially, that you know exactly where you’re going.
- Connect with other attendees ahead of the meeting – You no longer have to walk into a room full of people you don’t know. Social media is your friend here. If there is a website for the event or group, it is likely to have details of some of the team who run that group. Find them on Twitter or LinkedIn and connect with them. Do more than just follow or send a connection request though. @ them or send them a LinkedIn message saying you’re looking forward to meeting them. Do this with as many people as possible who you think are attending. If the group has a Twitter feed, Tweet @ it and say you’re looking forward to coming. The Twitter account will be run by a person who attends the group. That way, when you get there, you will feel like you already know some of the people in the room and can continue a warm conversation, rather than starting a conversation from a cold start.
- Aim to arrive early – There are loads of different opinions about whether it is better to be early to a networking event or arrive late and make an entrance. My advice here, specifically to help you feel more confident is to NOT be still driving around the carpark frantically looking for a space just as everyone sits down to eat their breakfast. My advice here is NOT to rush in feeling flustered. Aim to be there early, even if you sit in the car for ten minutes and collect your thoughts. Then you can arrive calmly and grab a coffee.
- SMILE – Remember to smile. People will smile back and you’re away. If you’re nervous it is SO easy to forget to smile. So make a conscious effort. When you look like you’re enjoying it, you will start to forget that you weren’t going to enjoy the event.
Please note, and this was on purpose, that four out of these five tricks are about what you do BEFORE the networking meeting. I still prepare for every meeting.